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Turkey Kurds: The bitter politics of the football pitch

Amedspor supporters are lucky to see their team playIf ethnic tensions in Turkey are reflected on the football pitch, then Amedspor and their Kurdish following are at the very centre of the field.The club represents the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey, about 120km (75 miles) from the Syrian border, with a population of…

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Turkey Kurds: The bitter politics of the football pitch

Amedspor supporters are lucky to see their team playIf ethnic tensions in Turkey are reflected on the football pitch, then Amedspor and their Kurdish following are at the very centre of the field.The club represents the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey, about 120km (75 miles) from the Syrian border, with a population of about one million.Mahsum Kazikci, a passionate member of Amedspor’s “Resistance” fan group, reflects the feelings shared by many fellow supporters when he speaks of the “racism” the club faces.”There is a saying: ‘We will win by resisting’,” he says. “When Turks say it, there is isn’t any problem, but Amedspor fans can’t even write it on a banner. Despite this we will never change our personality, our way. We will continue on this path. We are a legal fan club of a legal football team.”The club was founded in 1990 but in 2014 they rebranded – “Amed” comes from the Kurdish name for Diyarbakir and its surrounding region. This new name is just one of the reasons behind the pressures they have faced in recent years. They are a long way from the top of Turkish football – they are not even vying for the top places in the country’s third highest division – but their games are often overshadowed by conflict and confrontation between fans. That is, when their fans are not banned from attending matches. I visited Diyarbakir on a sunny Spring Sunday when Amedspor had a home game against Sancaktepe, a team from Istanbul. None of Amedspor’s supporters were allowed in to watch. The reason for the ban stemmed from a mysterious incident in early March. Mansur Calar, an Amedspor player, was accused of slashing rival players with a razor blade during a home match with Sakaryaspor, a team from Adapazari, on 2 March. Sakaryaspor said their players had also been attacked as they inspected the pitch and again during the warm-up. After the game, on social media, players shared photos of their necks showing scarring. Pro-government media outlets called Calar a “terrorist with a razor blade”. The Turkish Football Federation banned him for life and imposed a fine of 25,000 lira (£3,500; $4,550). The penalty was later reduced to a 20-match suspension, but he still faces a judicial proceeding.Calar says he is the victim of “a political campaign against Amedspor”. “It’s nonsense,” he tells BBC Turkish. “How could a football player possibly bring a razor blade and wound his opponent? It’s impossible.”It was like a derby for us so yes, I was a bit aggressive. But those scars were made by my nails, not a razor blade. I was taking guitar lessons and my nails were a bit long.””Things I did not do went viral, out of control on social media,” he says, blaming “fake news” for the bans imposed. “When we go to an away game, the rival team’s supporters chant racist slogans against us,” he adds. “This is hard to take psychologically. Amedspor are under immense pressure and we struggle under these conditions.”It is common to see grey wolves at Amedspor’s away matches – it is a symbol adopted by Turkish nationalists. Giant Turkish flags are also waved and slogans such as “Kurds out, terrorists out” and “This is Turkey, not Kurdistan” are shouted. In 2016, Amedspor executives were beaten by a mob in the capital Ankara after a game against Ankaragucu.In 2017, Amedspor’s German-Kurdish player Deniz Naki, who had been previously convicted of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, was banned for life and accused of “spreading separatist and ideological propaganda” through his social media posts.Amedspor’s chairman, Ali Karakas, draws a parallel between such reactions and the “polarised political atmosphere” in Turkey.”Football is at the centre of politics in Turkey,” he says. “Some circles use it as a means to express their political views, as it appeals to large and young masses. And in today’s Turkey, where politicians use a discriminatory tone, that is reflected on the pitch.”Turkey has a long history of struggle and violence dating back to the 1980s between the PKK and the Turkish security forces. About 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms against the Turkish state. While the current AKP government made efforts towards reconciliation after coming to power, the Kurdish-majority south-eastern region of Turkey enjoyed only a few years of peace, between 2012 and 2015.Since 2015, Diyarbakir and its wider region have been at the centre of another phase of urban warfare between Kurdish militants and security forces.

Between July 2015 and December 2016, Turkey imposed curfews and boosted security in the region, amid political turmoil. PKK militants declared self-rule in many areas, digging trenches and building barricades in the streets. Turkish security forces retaliated with military operations. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, some 2,000 people were killed in the conflict and more than 355,000 people were internally displaced, escaping the fighting on their doorstep. In February 2016, as the violence in the region reached its peak, Amedspor players walked on to the pitch holding a giant banner that read “Children Should Not Die, They Should Come to The Match”. With this slogan, fans and the team were accused of “making terrorist propaganda” and they received a series of penalties. Supporters have been banned from over 60 away games over the past three years. “Security reasons” were given as justification.Since then, many of their slogans and banners have been deemed “ideological propaganda”.When I visited fans at the Resistance club, they were painting a banner in support of Mansur Calar ahead of their next home game, against Sancaktepe. It read: “Mansur Calar is not alone”. They hoped to get it into the stands where they were not allowed.

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Hundreds have died and thousands have been displaced since a ceasefire broke down in July.But come match day, when I stepped inside the deserted stadium, neither banner nor fans were anywhere to be seen. Supporters later told me delegates of the football federation had prevented them from displaying it. “We are legal fans of a legal club that play in the Turkish league,” says Mahsum Kazikci.”We support our team the same way as other team fans do. And we’ll continue to do that.””What shall we do?” asks fan club leader Ramazan Tugay. “If it’s a crime to say: ‘Mothers should not cry but watch their kids play football’, what shall we say? We want to shout for peace in football.”Similar feelings are expressed by Erdal Akdemir, Amedspor’s Barikat (Barricade) fan club leader. “We are citizens of this country but we also have distinct a language, culture and identity. We are Kurds and we are Amedspor’s Kurdish fans. Nobody should ignore us,” he says.The region and its Kurdish identity are seen as “the main reasons for the hostile attitude” the club faces, according to Amedspor’s female fan club leader, Beritan Akyol. She adds: “We are used to the bans and punishments as these lands are deemed as a potentially criminal region.”This sentiment is also present around the matches of Amedspor’s women’s team, who play in Turkey’s top division. Fans who are not allowed to watch Amedspor’s male team’s home games often rally behind the women’s team instead. Complaining about the heavy security presence in a match against the region’s other Kurdish-majority team, Hakkarigucu, Amedspor’s female players emerge from the changing rooms and are heard saying: “What is this, are we going to a war or a football ground?” Only a few days later, on 23 March, Amedspor manage to get permission for their fans to attend an away game in Istanbul, against Eyupspor. It is only the second away match in over three years where Amedspor supporters are allowed into the stands. There is again a heavy police presence, the security forces are quite intimidating. But with the fans’ eyes on the pitch, and police officers’ eyes on the fans, chants are heard from the Amedspor stands in support of both teams, rallying behind a message of unity. “Amedspor – Eyupspor! Hand in hand, arm in arm, both teams unite! Peace in the stadium! Hey, pro-government media, do you hear us? Do you see us chanting for peace?”

Read more:Who are the kurds?Profile: The PKKTurkey country profile

Amedspor fans

Amedspor fan Mahsum Kazikci

Mansur Calar spoke to BBC Turkish in April

Amedspor chairman Ali Karakas

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When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia – Arab world mourns passing of a legend

DOHA: Andres Iniesta scored his first goal in the Asian Champions League as Vissel Kobe powered their way to the last-16 with a dominant 3-1 win over Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou Evergrande in their Group G clash on Wednesday. The Spain and Barcelona legend fired a right-footed shot from the center of the box in the 84th…

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When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia – Arab world mourns passing of a legend

DOHA: Andres Iniesta scored his first goal in the Asian Champions League as Vissel Kobe powered their way to the last-16 with a dominant 3-1 win over Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou Evergrande in their Group G clash on Wednesday.

The Spain and Barcelona legend fired a right-footed shot from the center of the box in the 84th minute to help the Japanese side consolidate their position at the top of their group with two wins from as many matches.

They are now five points ahead of Guangzhou and Suwon Samsung Bluewings and assured of a spot in the knockout phase after the group was reduced to three teams following Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta’zim’s withdrawal from the tournament.

In another match on Wednesday, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors pipped Sydney FC 1-0 in Group H with Na Sung-eun scoring in the 44th minute.

It was the Australian side’s third defeat in four matches while Jeonbuk revived their hopes with their first victory.

Iniesta, who was declared MVP of the match, had been an influential presence for Vissel Kobe throughout the encounter with his quick thinking and crisp passing, and that reflected in their first goal in the 44th minute at the Khalifa International Stadium.

The Spanish veteran dashed his way up on the left flank to control a long diagonal pass and after advancing further turned around near the goalline to tap the ball onto the path of the advancing Kyogo Furuhashi who struck with a clean, low shot from close range.

Furuhashi’s personal joy at scoring lasted only 10 minutes as the forward first conceded a corner and then watched in horror as his attempted clearance from the resultant kick found his own net to give Guangzhou the equalizer.

Cannavaro made three substitutions in a desperate bid for victory after having drawn their opening game against Suwon Samsung Bluewings. But although the two-time champions enjoyed a couple of brief purple patches during which they had the Kobe defence under pressure, the goal they were looking for never materialized.

Vissel Kobe regained the lead in the 74th minute when Douglas, who had just come in five minutes prior, took advantage of a great back-heel from Daigo Nishi and blasted the ball home.

Brazil-born Elekson, now known as Ai Kesen, had a goal disallowed for off-side on eight minutes and when Iniesta struck two minutes later, it extended Cannavaro’s misery in Doha.

“The result is bad. We tried but I know that something in my team is not clear. I don’t know if they are afraid to play or they are not confident anymore,” the Italian complained after the match.

“I need to try and do my best to give them the confidence to play. This is my job. I know they are very good players, and we can do much, much, much better.”

Vissel Kobe had landed in Doha after a string of disappointing results back home, conceding a whopping 58 goals in 33 league matches and losing five games in a row.

But their coach Atsuhiro Miura was basking in joy on Wednesday, saying he was ready with a game plan against a side packed with several Brazilians.

“Guangzhou is a very strong side, they have several good Brazilian players but we analysed how they play and how to prevent them from playing to their strengths,” said Miura.

“We did everything well and everything went how we wanted it to. That’s why we got this result.”

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Going for goal: Saudi Arabia kicks off first women’s football league

RIYADH: First they opened the grandstands to women, now Saudi Arabia is encouraging them to cross the touchline and compete in the Kingdom’s first Women’s Football League tournament. The historic competition kicks off on Tuesday morning, with 24 teams across Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam competing for a championship cup, and a $133,000 cash prize. The…

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Going for goal: Saudi Arabia kicks off first women’s football league

RIYADH: First they opened the grandstands to women, now Saudi Arabia is encouraging them to cross the touchline and compete in the Kingdom’s first Women’s Football League tournament.

The historic competition kicks off on Tuesday morning, with 24 teams across Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam competing for a championship cup, and a $133,000 cash prize.

The Kingdom opened its stadiums to women football supporters in January, 2018, but this is the first time they will have been allowed to compete in a tournament.

The competition has been lauded as an important step for the Saudi sports world, with many in the game throwing their support behind the event.

Calling the competition a “positive step,” Abdullah Alyami, Saudi football coach and sports reporter, said he expects many more women to participate in future tournaments.

“This is a very happy day for all athletes, be they male or female. And based on what we’ve seen, and how beloved the sport of football is all over the Kingdom, I believe we will see many more of our sisters getting involved in professional sports,” he said.
عبدالله اليامي: انطلاق #الدوري_النسائي في #السعودية خطوة إيجابية.. وأتوقع إقبالا كبيرا على المشاركة في فرق كرة القدم النسائية#تواصل #قناة_الرسالة@m3sss3 pic.twitter.com/UxRa8pZSWo
— قناة الرسالة (@alresalahnet) November 17, 2020
Saudi sports reporter Riyan Al-Jidani tweeted his support.

“To all my dear sisters participating the Women’s Football League, your success in the tournament is a step in the right direction towards our dream of universality and representing our homeland to the outside world. Raising the flag on the field is a glory and pride,” he said.

The tournament was due to start in March – but the coronavirus pandemic stopped play.

But for some that just presented the opportunity to up their game.

“We started preparations early, and the delay due to the pandemic actually worked in our favor. We were able to take more than two months to prepare for the tournament,” Maram Al-Butairi, general manager and head coach at Dammam-based Eastern Flames FC.

Amal Gimie, 26, an Eritrean midfielder for Jeddah’s Kings United, previously told Arab News that she had been playing the beautiful game since she was eight.

“There was a match every weekend. The boys made us play as goalkeepers in the beginning, and in 2002, when I first saw the Women’s World Cup, it sparked my passion to learn more about this sport,” said Gimie, who is also a management information systems graduate. She joined her first female football team, Challenge, in Riyadh in 2014.

She said: “It was the first time I joined something organized. I was happy to be playing but at the same time I felt as though it was an unreachable goal (to become a professional athlete or join an official league), I felt like I was growing older without achieving anything.”

The matches won’t be broadcast, but Saudi’s army of football fans remain excited by the tournament.

Wejdan Al-Shammary, who grew up playing sports in school, said she would have tried for a team “in a heartbeat” if she had been just a few years younger.

“I played both basketball and football on my high school teams. I was a complete sports nut, but it makes me happy to know that even if it’s too late for me to achieve those dreams, there’s a chance now for young Saudi girls that I never had,” she said.

Najla Ahmed, a 16-year-old from Riyadh who plays on her school’s football team, said she would try for a local team in 2021.

“I’ll be 17, and therefore eligible, and I would love to see anyone try and stop me,” she said.

Both women said they hoped this was just the start and that more sports would be opened up to women.

“Football is just the beginning. I would love to see more focus on other sports, as well. Basketball, tennis, maybe even competitive swimming,” said Al-Shammary. “I’m sure we have so many potential Olympians among us who just need their talents nurtured.”

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NFL game postponed over Covid-19 cases

Tennessee Titans’ long snapper Beau Brinkley (left) and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (right) have been put on the reserve/Covid-19 listThe NFL game between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday has been postponed because of Covid-19 cases.The game will be rescheduled for Monday or Tuesday after the outbreak among Titans players and staff.On Tuesday,…

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NFL game postponed over Covid-19 cases

Tennessee Titans’ long snapper Beau Brinkley (left) and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (right) have been put on the reserve/Covid-19 listThe NFL game between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday has been postponed because of Covid-19 cases.The game will be rescheduled for Monday or Tuesday after the outbreak among Titans players and staff.On Tuesday, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, long snapper Beau Brinkley and practice squad tight end Tommy Hudson were put on the reserve/Covid-19 list.The NFL has since shut down the team facility.According to the NFL network, a fourth player also returned a positive test on Wednesday.The Titans played the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis last Sunday.The Vikings’ facility was also closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and it is unclear whether their scheduled game with the Houston Texans will take place on Sunday.
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